Budgeting for Activities

October 28, 2011

By Heather Compton

Peel Off A “Ritchie Unit”

A “Ritchie unit” is a term my husband Dennis uses to refer to a one thousand dollar expenditure.  He’s dating himself as it’s a reference to a comic book character popular in the 60s.  How many of you remember Ritchie Rich – “the poor little rich boy”?

One of the items on my personal Life List is to try a “new to me” activity each and every year.  It seems each time I try to initiate a discussion about what I might like to try next Dennis’ standard reply is – “just how many Ritchie units is that likely to cost us?”  He’s joking but there is certainly a reality check imbedded in the question.

Interesting Interests DO Cost Money!

It’s true – sports, activities, new learning, clubs and hobbies all have costs associated with them and those costs need consideration in our financial planning for retirement.  I always asked my clients to start with the dream and work backwards.  Their list of dreams included ambitions to take up a range of musical instruments, or a plan to throw themselves into new physical endeavours by learning to fly, ski, golf, mountain climb or kayak.  Others had quieter or even solo activities in mind – sewing, painting, scrapbooking, book clubs.  Some plotted a return to university or had a desire to learn fine furniture making or photography, or looked into the purchase of a long-coveted sailboat, horse or ATV.  Their ideas ran the imaginative gamut and sometimes ran farther than their wallet capacity!

Let Me Ask a Question

Next comes the inquiry.  Are you new to the game, hobby or sport and is there a whole list of supplies or equipment you’ll need to get started?  Will you need special training or physical conditioning or some lessons to pursue a new or revived passion in life’s next chapter?  Does your plan require a membership or maybe a coach?  What about a place to store the required equipment or a studio to practise at?

Try It On For Size

You don’t always need to make a big financial outlay to try something new.  We are very fortunate in my hometown.  Our university has one of the very best and most extensive outdoor recreation programs in Canada with a mandate to educate and involve the larger community.  It means we can take classes and get qualified instruction in just about any sport you can name.  Best of all, we can rent the equipment, even for extended periods, to test if this is just an exploration or if it is an activity we intend to get keen about.  Many colleges and schools offer similar programs and retailers like Mountain Equipment Coop offer equipment rentals.

Adult bands are surging in popularity and music stores often run instrument rental programs to cater to this demographic.  An artist friend dedicates one evening a week to her painting and rents studio space, with guidance and input provided by the studio owner.  She loves the collegial atmosphere and inspiration of painting alongside others – and she leaves the mess at the studio.

Beginner’s Mind

To my mind, just as important as the financial considerations is allowing ourselves to be beginners again.  Our early training to color only between the lines and our own perfectionist tendencies makes many of us hesitant to try something new.  What if we aren’t any good at it and look foolish in the attempt?

Dennis and I had never used a kayak before but had the notion we would like to kayak on Canada’s beautiful west coast.  We took a course that included both in class and on the water training, had our fitness trainer add in some upper body work to build endurance and then signed up for a trip organized by our instructor.  Dennis really appreciated that he could carry beer and keep it cold in a kayak, unlike backpacking where weight is a restriction.   The only downside, he claimed, was the requirement to paddle with a partner he viewed as “luggage”!  A rude reference to my frequent tendency to stop paddling in order to view the sights.  Both of us concluded it was a grand adventure and we’ve had other trips but we haven’t purchased our own kayak – we’d rather someone else managed upkeep and storage.  I’ve pointed out to him that decision saved us some “Ritchie units”!

About the Authors: Heather Compton has presented seminars on financial and retirement lifestyle issues for over 30 years. She retired as Vice President and Senior Investment Advisor with a major financial services company. Heather and husband Dennis Blas co-present retirement seminars for a variety of corporate clients and are the co-authors of Retirement Rocks! Canadian Boomers Invest in Life. You can find their book online or in independent bookstores. See more of their advice at Retirement Rocks.

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